The World According to Keitho

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Posts Tagged ‘Cedar Walton’

Scan it!

Posted by keithosaunders on February 16, 2012

In my last post I wrote about my road trip to and from Las Vegas in which I happened to listen to an hour or two of right-wing radio.  This prompted Verdon to comment about a childhood memory of being able to pick up a Mexican radio station from his home in the Southwest.

When it comes to matters of the radio the ultimate source to turn to is my best friend, and occasional guest-blogger, Jeff Mazzei.  Jeff was the program director for WCBS FM for over thirty years, and he knows radio like Charles Dickens knew adjectives.

Enough of my needless prattling.  I give you…Mr. Mazzei.


Guest blogging for Keith Saunders is like going to a concert expecting Cedar Walton to play only to find out that it’s Bill Walton.  But I’m here to expand on the subject of scanning for distant AM signals which is a subject dear to my heart having spent decades in the business.

Growing up in New York City, nighttime scanning for distant AM signals was great sport in the Marble Hill Projects.  For music, we loved WKBW from Buffalo which had an out-of-control nighttime disc jockey named Jack Armstrong.  But the real thrill was CKLW from Detroit which understandably had the inside track to all the new Motown releases, and we all felt as if we had the underground r & b pipeline to Motown a week ahead of everyone else.  In the summer, we scanned baseball games from Boston, Baltimore, Cleveland, and Cincinnati to go with the Mets & Yankees.

But on the west coast, they had a unique scanning experience.  In the U.S. & Canada, the legal power limit for an AM station is 50, 000 watts in order to protect stations from interfering with each other within a reasonable distance.  Mexico was never interested in such good will, so their legal limit is 250,000 watts.

One such station was XERB in Rosarito Beach with a 250,000 watt transmitter near San Diego.  This was the station that hired Wolfman Jack who became a radio icon with his unique brand of announcing.  He was not only a wild man on the air, but he exposed the west coast audience to r & b records that were never played on most west coast top 40 stations, and it was not uncommon for Wolfman to say hello to his listeners in Portland and Vancouver.

XERB actually had offices in Chula Vista, California and on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.  They also made money by selling time to pentecostal preachers who solicited donations.  One such preacher, Reverend Ike, had the sales pitch, “The worst thing you can do for the poor people is to be one of them, so send me your donations!”

I had the pleasure of working with Wolfman Jack (or as his co-workers called him, “Wolfie”) in New York at WNBC.  The real life Wolfman Jack was not unlike his on-air persona, but it was more low-key.  It alway amused me that this wild man of the airways with the zany moniker of Wolfman Jack actually had the most mundane of real names—–Bob Smith.

Sadly, both Wolfman Jack and XERB have passed from the scene, and CKLW in Detroit no longer is spinning Motown exclusives, but scanning never dies.  There are still baseball games hiding up there somewhere on a hot summer night.  It just takes a little patience and a talented wrist.  Scan it!!

Bill Walton

Cedar Walton

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NFL, are you ready for greatness?

Posted by keithosaunders on February 10, 2011

Another Super Bowl is history and we now stagger into the dark period of the sports year when there is nothing to watch but meaningless regular season NBA and NHL games until the opening day of the baseball season comes to the rescue.  This year the doldrums will be a few days shorter owing to MLB having moved their opening day three days earlier than usual to March 31st. 

But I digress.  It was a good, not a great game.  The Packers dominated the first half until Pittsburgh obliged us by putting up a good fight in the second half only to fall short.  Boo hoo — they have enough championships.

What I really want to talk about is the halftime show, which was an abomination.  If the Black Eyed Peas is the best that the NFL can offer then maybe they ought to throw in the towel and go back to using Up With People.  I appreciate that the NFL is making an effort to appeal to a younger demographic, but for gods sake, don’t do it with mediocrity!  Better to trot out old leviathans such as The Who or The Stones.  At least they could rock at one point. (albeit a point that is now decades in the rear view mirror) 

Sending the Black Eyed Peas out to do a halftime show is like asking Pee Wee Herman to play Hamlet.  It’s not in their skill-set.  Fergie?!  Give me a break.  She sounds like my grandma on acid.  What’s more, the one song they do that I would have cared to hear  — My Humps — wasn’t suitable for Middle America.  That’s the song with these catchy lyrics:

What you gon’ do with all that junk?
All that junk inside your trunk?
I’ma get, get, get, get, you drunk,
Get you love drunk off my hump.
My hump, my hump, my hump, my hump, my hump,
My hump, my hump, my hump, my lovely little lumps 

Cole Porter couldn’t have said it better.

Fortunately for the NFL, I am here to solve their halftime problem.  Commishioner Goodell, if you want to hire an A-one class act that is professional, supremely talented, and under-the-radar, do yourself a favor and run, do not walk, to hire Cedar Walton.  There isn’t a better jazz pianist out there.  He’ll sound great, he’ll look marvellous, and best of all he will not embarrass you!  

Not only does Cedar bring excellence to the table, but he will imbue the halftime show with the dignity deserving of such event.  Us middle-aged jazzers will be thrilled to finally see our hero get his due, and the oldtimers will be happy not to have to fiddle with their hearing aids.  The youngsters will also be happy as long as you play up the fact that jazz is the most hated music of all time.  To them, seeing Cedar on the stage will be an enormous ‘fuck you’ to the yuppies that are pining to see the milquetoast bands of their youth. Not seeing Foreigner, Aerosmith, or Madonna on the stage will be worth putting up with ten minutes of hellaciously swinging hardbop.

Furthermore, I guarantee you that Cedar’s price tag will be hundreds of thousands less than The Police would have been.  It’s a win-win situation.  And just think how good those special effects will look to the sounds of Bolivia!   

Cedar Walton

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Remembering Donte’s

Posted by keithosaunders on December 12, 2010

I began learning jazz improvisation when I was 15, studying under a vibes player named Charlie Shoemake.  I had studied classical piano since the age of 7 and although I had accomplished quite a bit in that span of time, I had become frustrated and disenchanted with my playing.  In fact, I had stopped practicing. 

When I began learning jazz it felt like a great weight had been lifted.  Technically it seemed less demanding than classical music.  Aside from a little trouble reading the syncopated rhythms, I found it to be much easier than Bartok and Bach.  Later on, when I realized that I had to get my ideas across at breakneck tempos with drum and bass accompaniment, I would find it much more challenging.

After I had been studying for a year Charlie suggested that I hear some live music.  There was a club not far from where I lived called Donte’s which was a long-standing San Fernando Valley hot spot located in North Hollywood, about five miles from where I grew up in Van Nuys.  Underaged people such as myself could attend Donte’s owing to the fact that they served food which removed it from having a “bar” status. 

One spring night my dad drove my friend Daryl (a sax player) and I to Donte’s to hear my teacher’s band.  Many great Los Angeles musicians played there, as well as east coast cats passing through on tour. I was lucky to catch the last quarter of its 23 year existence before it finally closed in the late ’80s.  I saw Cedar Walton play there with teh saxophonist Bob Berg.  I saw the Harold Land and Blue Mitchell group, Bobby Shew, Ted Curson, Art Pepper, Warne Marsh, Lew Tabackin, and many more. 

Donte’s was close to where I lived and not too expensive.  It was a heady experience to be a teenager and hanging out at a jazz club.  It felt like I was a member of a private club in which the rest of the world knew next to nothing about.  Come to think of it, 30 years later it still feels that way; especially when you take into consideration the empty seats!

I still remember the personnel in the band I saw that first night.  Pete Christlieb was the tenor player: a fiery, yet melodic musician who played in the Tonight Show Band.  He also played one of the most famous sax solos ever on a rock record on Steely Dan’s Deacon Blues. 

Terry Trotter was the pianist.  After high school I went back to studying classical music, this time with Terry.  He had a relaxed, holistic apporach to his teaching and he was nothing less than inspiring, both as a teacher and a pianist.

Andy Simpkins was the bassist, and Dick Berk was on drums.  A few years later Dick and I would become very close friends playing dozens, if not hundreds of gigs in L.A.  I was the first pianist in his band, The Jazz Adoption Agency.  I was also the pianist at his wedding where I managed to screw up the changes to Easy To Love, which was the song that he and his wife marched down the aisle to.  How embarrassing.  Dick, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry!

 Everything about Donte’s seemed cool to me.  From the dark lighting, to the leather booths, to the haze of the cigarette smoke.  The best part was the proximity of the audience to the bandstand. We were literally on top if the band in our front row table and you could hear the musicians joke to one another in a loose, nonchalant way.  Of course we couldn’t understand what they were talking about but that didn’t matter to us.  We loved that the musicians would interact with us; they would acknowledge our presence. They seemed like stars to us, yet here they were talking to us and even joking around or teasing us. 

The sound of it.  I hadn’t thought it would be loud, but it was.  We sat mere feet from the band and the music came at us with an urgency and vibrancy that, to my 16-year-old ears, had been lacking from my stereo.  It wasn’t the ear-splitting cacophony of arena rock, but it wasn’t chamber music either.  It felt substantial; like it had meat on its bones.

About a year later I would sit in with Charlie and the alto player Ted Nash.  Ted was Charlie’s best student and somebody I looked up to and he has gone on to have a great career in New York City.  I remember that even though sitting at the piano was only a few feet from my front row table, the sound and feel were completely different.  Between the bright presence of the sax, the cymbals, and the amplified bass, it felt like being in the middle of a tornado and it was difficult to get comfortable.  It was an entirely different feeling than practicing in my den or playing duets in Charlie’s studio.  Yet it was thrilling.  I’m sure that I overplayed and was every bit the callow 16 year old, but it didn’t matter.  I had gotten my feeet wet. 

Seeing Ted, as well as his pianist, Randy Kerber, who were both a year older than I, made me feel like with a lot of hard work I could be playing gigs as well.  At that time music seemed flush with possibility.  

Those first gigs that I attended probably had as much to do with my becoming serious about jazz than anything else.  I had the right teacher and now I had a place where I could hear and see the music performed, and occasionally sit in with the band.  The music was accessible, and soon it would be attainable.

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